Edward's Birding Diary
|4 January 2006|
The Great Icelandic Winter Bird Race
Another year passes and 2005 was once again another fine birding year. The highlights for me included seeing Wallcreepers in the Spanish Pyrenees, with Lammergeiers soaring overhead and noisy flocks of Alpine Chough effortlessly sailing along the cliff edge. Closer to home the summer was most memorable for two trips to Europe's biggest bird cliff at Látrabjarg in extreme western Iceland. I'm counting down the months until I can go out there again, as it's one of the great birding spectacles. And the autumn brought its usual but unpredictable selection of rare vagrants. But what is the Icelandic birder to do in these dark days of January? Take part in the Great Icelandic Winter Bird Race for one thing.
The winter race was an idea imported into Iceland by YK after he spent a year in Québec. From 1 December to 28 February, the quietest time of the birding year, we have a (friendly) competition to see who can see the most birds. It encourages you to get out and about, although I draw the line at travelling miles to see a very rare overwinterer such as Meadow Pipit, when I know that I'll see them in their thousands come April. Not everyone is as sensible as me, however. Hence I never win the bird race. A total of 108 species have been seen in the two years it has been running, which is pretty good for the doorstep to the Arctic in mid-winter. As I have been embraced by sloth for most of December, YK dragged me out on New Year's Eve to have a quick look around Reykjavík. Christmas and New year were remarkably mild, with temperatures in the double figures on some days. Consequently some of the lakes we normally expect to be frozen weren't but we still managed to find a couple of Goosander Mergus merganser and a pair of Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula at regular winter sites. Birds of the day were two first-winter Brent Geese Branta bernicla which should be in Ireland at this time of the year. On New Year's Day I walked down to the sea at the end of my road mid-afternoon to try and kick start the year list. There are three species which usually vie for title of first bird of the year, Raven, Starling or Snow Bunting. This year the honour went to Raven Corvus corax, an abundant and highly conspicuous winter resident in the capital. It was quickly followed by Starling Sturnus vulgaris and then a delightfully tame flock of 20 Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis feeding on the pavement. The sea held the usual suspects, i.e. Eider Duck Somateria mollissima, Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, whilst a flock of thirty-two Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides were frenziedly feeding on something. I think that brings me on to 30 something in the winter race, way behind the leaders but I'm not losing sleep over it. You can check out the latest figures in the race here Great Icelandic Winter Bird Race.